666! This number has been special in the minds of believers and nonbelievers alike for thousands of years. What exactly is this number meant to represent? What is the “mark of the beast”? Is the government going to try and put a microchip in my hand? What should I do?
There is much speculation about what the number 666 means, and it all comes from this chapter in Revelation; chapter thirteen. However, before we go wandering off to try and apply this number to our situation in 21st century America, it is important to try and understand what John is trying to communicate to his audience in 1st century Asia Minor. This is an important practice for reading any passage of the Bible, and I encourage you to do your research before applying it to yourself.
John sees a vision of a terrifying beast that has ten horns and seven heads, and was like a leopard, with feet like a bear, and a mouth of a lion. It is likely that John is drawing these images from the Old Testament prophet Daniel, specifically Daniel chapter 7, where the prophet describes four great empires with beast-like imagery. Since Daniel described empires/nations with this imagery, it is likely that John also has a specific empire in mind with his description of this beast. Since we’ve already been told that this beast is responsible for killing the two Witnesses (11:7), John likely has in mind the nation of Rome, who was ruling at the time of his writing and was notorious for killing Christians during the empire’s reign.
John then sees a second beast, which is responsible for making the people worship the first beast. In the first century Roman world that John is writing in, there was a religious movement called “the imperial cult”, that was the fastest growing religion of the time. This religious movement encouraged, and sometimes forced, people to worship the Roman emperors as “gods”. If you do a little historical study on the imperial cult, you may be surprised at how much the whole New Testament addresses this issue.
This second beast forces the people to put a “mark” on their hand or forehead, demanding their allegiance to the first beast. If you don’t have this “mark”, you will be unable to do many things. This number is the number of “a man”, which is 666. This is in stark contrast to the “mark” (or seal) that God had already placed on his own people in 7:3. In other words, you are either with God or against Him.
While I don’t believe we have to worry about microchips in our world today, since that wasn’t the point John was making, we do have a responsibility of giving our allegiance to God in every decision we make. Think about each decision you make today. Is this decision honoring to God, or is it bringing glory to something else? Have you “marked” yourself with God’s grace, or are you seeking something else?